Thursday, November 01, 2012

The fifth chapter of my new novel. Thanks for reading, and all comments are welcome. 
Wayne C. Grantham


      Mars was walking among the vehicles in the Impound Lot. He spotted the faded yellow HumVee and approached it. He examined it briefly, looking in through the windows. As near as he could tell, the Humvee was just as it was at the crime scene--no cleaner. There was no cargo inside; that he could see.
      He went into the custodian’s shack. The custodian on duty sat with his feet on his desk. Mars flashed his badge.
      “That HumVee from the MacDougal case; I want to take it down to the garage to examine it.”
      “It'll be examined. It just hasn’t been scheduled yet.” The custodian said without moving.
      This was one of the times Mars had no patience for the bureaucracy. He was a bubbling cauldron inside because of the murder of his partner, and he knew that what he was about to do bent the rules well past the breaking point. He was beyond caring. And, his arm hurt. “I'm gonna take it out to the desert for a spin. Get me the keys!”
      The custodian wrote the license number of the HumVee in his book.
      “I'll get the paperwork,” he said, finally stirring from his chair.
Mars parked the HumVee inconspicuously among several of the older police vans and paddy wagons. He parked it more or less out of sight between two of the larger vans. His plan was to keep it out of sight and out of the way so that Horiuchi would overlook it. He wanted buy himself a little time to search it himself as soon as his injured arm was more usable.
The arm wound had been a simple injury--the bullet passed cleanly through the flesh of his upper forearm. The clinic cleaned, closed and bandaged it, and restrained it in a sling. Fortunately, he thought, his left arm.
Fortunately, he was still alive.
Unfortunately, his partner was not.
He was going to solve the case in spite of CIATFBI, because the state anti-smuggling agency never would.
      Soon after, Mars made his way to his desk in a partitioned corner of the Squad Room, where after exchanging somber greetings and receiving condolences from his fellow detectives, began typing his reports on an old laptop, one hand, one finger at a time.
Horiuchi entered and scanned the squad room. He walked, without saying anything, straight to the door of Captain French's office. He knocked, and after a moment, entered. After a moment, French poked his head out of his office and waved Mars in.
      Mars took a moment to finish a sentence on his report, saved it with an unconscious flourish, then rose and slowly walked among the desks to Captain French’s office, and entered. It was a small room with a government issue-type desk, a couple of cheap chromed metal and plastic chairs and some framed commendations and photos of the Governor and the Mayor on the wall. They hadn’t yet replaced the picture of the old Mayor with his successor, Mars noticed. French had already returned to the well-worn faux leather executive chair and was sitting forward, elbows and hands on his desk. Horiuchi was seated in one of the other chairs, working at his fingernails with a penknife.
“Sit down, Mars.” Captain French offered.
Mars remained standing. “I just lost partner and a friend, Captain, and I haven't slept in three days. I know what's going on. Let's skip the bullshit.”
      “Sorry to hear about Rodriguez,” Horiuchi said without looking up.
      Mars locks onto Horiuchi. “Yeah, I'm not completely sure you weren't involved, Horiuchi. You drive a black Suburban”
      Glaring up at Mars, Horiuchi started to get up, then relaxed back into his chair. Only his eyes did not relax. “Everybody drives a black Suburban,” he said, trying to force nonchalance. He went back to the task of minutely grooming his fingertips.
“Cut the shit, Mars!” French ordered. “We're all on the same side.”
“You’re a lot more certain of that than I am, Captain!” Mars countered, not taking his eyes off Horiuchi. A moment passed, then Mars made a show of visibly relaxing, leaning against the wall of the office. He did a better job of faking a change of focus than Horiuchi. Believing the tension had eased, at least somewhat, Captain French leaned back. “We're giving the MacDougal case over to the CIATFBI. I want you to cooperate fully with them.”
      “Have they ever,” Mars asked through a wry smirk, “in the six long, painful years of the agency's existence, actually solved even one crime?”
      Horiuchi gave Mars another look. “Listen, you....”
      “Shut up, Mars. Give Horiuchi everything you have on this. That's an order.”
      Mars looked back at Horiuchi, now offering a more affable, if insincere smile. “I thought you guys were just into smuggling.”
      “This is a smuggling case,” Horiuchi said. “She was bringing in and selling contraband from Baja California.”
      Mars gave a slight nod, as if to accept Horiuchi’s explanation.
      “It’s rough losing a partner, Mars” French said, thinking the tension between the two men had eased. “We’ll all miss Regis around here. Just give Horiuchi the stuff you have on this case, and then take a couple of weeks’ vacation on the Department.”
      Exiting Captain French’s office together, Horiuchi followed Mars through the Squad Room to his desk. Mars sat; opened a file drawer.
      “Freestate California,” Mars begins while riffling through the drawer. “Doesn't the Border Wall pretty much make smuggling impossible, along with the tracking of ships by satellite and the highway checkpoints? Governor Blue says Speedy Gonzales couldn't get in.”
      “Governor Ballou is a politician, and statements like that are for the rubes.” Horiuchi laughed without smiling. “You can't stop a hundred percent. Some smugglers are too smart to try to carry contraband in hidden under the seat cushions of a power boat. We know, for example, that Freestate smugglers have breached the Wall. We haven’t yet discovered how or where.”
      “Why do you want to catch them?” Mars asked, wondering what the current official lie was. “Why not just import their stuff and put it in stores?”
      “Come on, Marlowe!” Horiuchi scoffed. “It’d wreck California’s economy.”
      “California’s economy doesn’t have that far to go, the way it looks.” Mars countered. “Maybe some fresh trade goods might help a little.”
      Horiuchi darkened. “Look! I’m not here to debate economics with you. Just get me the stuff on the MacDougal case.”
Mars pulled a relatively thin folder. Opening it, he checked the several computer discs and three large manila envelopes marked “Photos.” He shuffled quickly through the thin sheaf of typed paperwork. He handed the whole folder to Horiuchi.
“Ok, that’s your file. What else is there? I want your reports, your notes, all the photos and videos and all the physical evidence.”
      “I haven’t finished writing my reports. It’s what I was doing when you arrived. The physical evidence is in the Evidence Room. You can see it with your ID. MacDougal’s gun and the bullets we dug up are in Ballistics. The corpses are in the morgue and her vehicle is in the Impound Lot. it isn’t. I sent it to a shop I know. The guy knows HumVees inside out. If there’s anything hidden in the vehicle, he’ll find it.”
      “I don’t want to see the evidence.” Horiuchi sneered. “I want the evidence. You were supposed to have it ready for me.”
      “First I heard of it,” Mars lied. “Tell you what. I’ll get it all together and bring it to you. It’ll take me a day or so.”
      Horiuchi considered for a moment. Mars thought he saw something click into place in Horiuchi’s eyes.
      “Thursday, I’m scheduled to ride along with the Border Patrol on one of their helicopter patrols of the Border Wall. Bring the stuff down to the Otay Border Patrol Base, and I’ll show you the Wall.”
      “I’ve never seen it from the air. Sounds good.”
      “I’ll set it up with the gate guard. Eight AM Thursday.”

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